You sleep right, you eat right, your health is in pretty tip-top working order but for some reason, your workouts are never what they could be. Ever wonder why?
This article is all about cycle syncing your workouts. So let’s talk about what that means…
Disclaimer: I’m about to talk about periods.
Firstly, cycle syncing (in this article) is matching your workouts to your period cycle, a 28-30 day monthly cycle.
We all know that exercising is good for us and provides us with extra energy, a stronger body more resilient to disease and infection. It also gives us a mental boost by both challenging us and dosing us up on happy hormones like seratonin and dopamine which can flush cortisol leaving us feeling reinvigorated and in control of our lives. However, exercise is not the only factor to health, diet is too.
As you know, I both promote and follow a low carb, high in healthy fats lifestyle (LCHF/Keto) and know many people thrive on this way of life. Of course, what works for me, may not always work for you…
But, following this lifestyle has COMPLETELY changed (for the absolute better) my menstrual cycle and this has enabled me to work out more efficiently.
What does “completely changed” look and feel like?
- A 28-30 day cycle, where ovulation occurs at the same time each month;
- No PMS overall – bye bye mood swings, irritability, bloated feelings etc;
- No longer having blood clots;
- No more cystic acne;
- No more painful periods;
- No more heavy bleeding.
Yep, these were all the things I suffered from and they are now things of the past. I speak to many women around me who all talk like it is completely normal for periods to be unpleasant and things to dread. Even men think it’s normal too.
IT”S NOT NORMAL TO SUFFER LADIES!!
I quit the pill years ago after taking it for 16 years!! My period was miserable when I was on the pill and stopping it was the best thing I ever did. After I made the decision to quit, I found and read Alisa Vitti’s book “Woman Code.” *
So in addition to learning heaps about my body and my cycle, I also realized that I wasn’t actually getting the most out of my workouts too, so I looked for a way to optimize them even further, referring to what I’d learnt from Alisa’s wonderfully informative and easy to read book. I found an explanation as to WHY I sometimes felt sluggish and didn’t want to work out as well as a reason to explain why the same workout was easier one week and harder the next.
So I went back to my workout drawing board and devised a workout schedule to fit my cycle and this is what I now follow. I’m writing this today to share it with all the lovely ladies who read my blog.
I hope you get as much benefit from this as I did.
One note: Getting healthy via diet is key to optimizing this plan. If your cycle (read hormones) is (are) out of whack, for whatever reason (PCOS, fibroids, long/short cycles, pain, acne etc), then this is something you need to work on first. Get your cycle right, then this will make more sense to you. Of course you can still track your cycle and exercise accordingly but once it’s on track, this plan will see you kicking goals.
Of course you’re probably at my site for tips on LCHF/keto living so if you’re keen to try this lifestyle, I cannot recommend it highly enough but above all, diet should eliminate all processed and refined foods and focus on whole, unprocessed, seasonal and organic produce. You should limit sugar to natural sugars and avoid all dairy. If you do opt for grains (which I don’t), make sure they are whole, unprocessed, organic and soaked/fermented.
Ok, now to the exercise cycle syncing program!!
Firstly, let’s explain how your cycle, week by week, is broken down:
Now let’s address how we can cycle sync our workouts…
Week 1: Menstrual phase
Day 1-7 (Duration 3-7 days)
Exercise: Level 1
Your body needs more energy for its processes right now so give it the additional rest it needs. I’m not saying sit down and do nothing, but do lighter activities, especially in the first couple of days. Your hormones are all at their lowest now, which may explain the way you feel.
Shopping, couch-time, catching up with friends, getting a massage, going to the movies and taking a couple of days off training are also completely acceptable during your period. Give yourself what you need during this time.
When you start to feel more energetic, start to increase either the amount of exercise or the pace/strength of the exercises.
- Yoga/stretching (restorative/hatha)
When you want to increase it a little…
- Body weight exercises
- Cycling around for pleasure (grab a mobike if you’re in Shanghai)
Remember, if you had or want to take a break from exercise and just eat some yummy keto ice-cream, or choc avo mousse and don’t feel a single bit of guilt about it (especially because they’re low carb and loaded with healthy fats).
Week 2: Follicular phase
Day 8-14 (Duration 7-10 days)
Exercise: Level 2-3
As your menstruation ends and you move into your follicular phase where the eggs in your ovaries are developing, your energy levels should begin to increase because you are starting to produce more hormones, particularly estrogen and follicular stimulating hormone (FSH).
In this phase, I usually find I’m more willing to try something new and get back into my routine again, even if my energy hasn’t super peaked yet.
What sort of things does this include?
- Swimming (I like to keep it to an easy breast stroke)
- Yoga (hatha, holding poses and starting to challenge myself more, trying some new stuff)
- Weight training (lighter weights, higher reps)
- Bodyweight training (handstands, push-ups, pull-ups, burpees, abs)
- Resistance band workouts
- HIIT or cardio (every other day)
- Cycling (spinning – push as hard as you can but understand if you’re not at your peak)
- Running (with some sprinting in bursts)
- Playing around with new moves, having fun with workouts
As mentioned, this is also a time for being playful and curious. If you had your eye on that Zumba class but never had the courage, now’s the time to try it! Give my fatty salad a try too 🙂
Week 3: Ovulatory phase – moving into Luteal phase (pt. 1)
Day 15-19 (Duration 3-4 days) + Day 20-24 (Luteal pt. 1)
Exercise: Level 4-5
Moving into ovulation is a great part of your cycle, at least it is for me. This is my personal peak: I feel great, I look great and my energy is at an all time high.
This is probably due to the sharp spike in estrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH), FSH and testosterone all doing a variety of jobs but ultimately, this energy is because you are ready to release that egg, you are fertile.
Then into pt. 1 of the luteal phase, you’ve also got rising levels of (more) estrogen and progesterone. The body and brain are on fire.
So, during this week, (which overlaps into pt. 1 of the luteal phase too) I like to ramp it up. I can cope with more so I can push it harder. This is not just with exercise but also with life. I’m very positive, focused and driven during this time. I can stay up longer (although I try not to), and I still feel energetic. Life is GOOD!
I like to get as much work done as possible during this time because I can really be productive. So my exercise reflects this also. Keep your bowels moving with raw and fermented foods too. Maybe try my sauerkraut recipe to keep you going.
Options for workouts during this week:
- Weights (push heavier, lower reps)
- Swimming (up the pace, get your freestyle on and stay in the pool for longer; do more laps)
- Yoga (power flow, hot class/bikram, get the most challenging poses on or hold your poses for longer)
- Running (go longer distances or do bigger sprint bursts)
- Cycling (go hard or go home, push it from beginning to end)
- Boxing/skipping/rowing (hard and fast)
- HIIT (add HIIT into your weight sessions, do everyday)
Overall, during this week a healthy woman should be able to cope with more frequent workouts OR longer workouts – you’ve got this!
Week 3/4: Luteal phase (pt 1/2)
Day 20-28/30 (Day 24-28/30: Luteal pt. 2)
Exercise: Level 3/2 -> 1
Come the second half of the luteal phase, things change, yet again. Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone begin their decline and the stamina and vibrancy you had but a mere few days ago has dropped off and you need a little more TLC.
That said, this is a good time to be tying loose ends together or just getting sh*t done. You’re still motivated from the last phase but the motivation is a little more inward.
So, naturally, workouts change yet again.
This is what it may look like:
- Weights (push lower weights and more reps)
- Bodyweight exercises (although you may find yourself less coordinated with balancing)
- HIIT training
- Yoga (power flow, reverting back to Hatha/stretching if needs be)
Basically though, I keep a similar regime to the Follicular phase activity level. Maybe I can push similar but just have less motivation to work out and would rather drop back to x3 times p/wk or I make my sessions 20-30 mins instead of 1 hour. I also like to up my iron with a good old steak or slow-cooked meal with plenty of yummy roasted veggies!
And then we come back around to the Menstrual phase where life and energy shifts right back to Level 1 and we start all over again.
Here is what it all looks like on a couple of infographics:
The cycle syncing exercise plan…
So without this guide, you can see how easy it is for women to put pressure on themselves or feel lazy when they don’t work out daily, preferring to sit on the couch instead. How one workout can feel really good, while others are just plain hard and how by understanding our cycle, we can better understand how to maximise and enjoy our workouts, lives and bodies.
Remember that not everyone is identical but hormonal production of a healthy woman is. So, listen to your body and if you’re feeling up to it, push it but understand that, unlike men who have a repetitive hormonal production pattern (of testosterone) which occurs over 24 hours, women have much more going on internally and it occurs over one month… so we have to be more forgiving of ourselves if we aren’t “feeling it” sometimes. We are definitely more complex and wonderful for this ladies!
On occasion, you may feel tired (from life) but once you get to the gym or outside to work out, you feel great so can increase the load but don’t place unnecessary stress on the body because it will decrease our happy hormones and increase the stress hormones – leading to imbalances in overall hormone production. This may present in problems to do with the thyroid, weak immune system (more likely to get ill), amenorrhea (loss of period) and even the opposite of what every woman wants – weight GAIN!
Yep, when you are under stress, your body wants to store fat, rather than burn it (it’s a protective mechanism).
So give cycle-syncing your workouts a go. You may feel fatter for a while (it’ll likely be in your head); you may feel guilty for a while but with time, you’ll learn to love yourself and use your workouts to your advantage and this will have you looking and feeling amazing. In fact, this program can encourage you to “move” everyday, as we should, it just means you can choose how you move which means more control, better time management, less stress about workouts AND better health outcomes!
That is something I love about syncing my workouts with my cycle and I hope you do too.
If you’re a cycle syncer, or decide to try this out, I would love to hear your thoughts below.
With love (and healthy fats), Bianca x
*NB. I am not sponsored of Alisa’s book or site just someone who whole-heartedly believes that it is awesome and every woman should read it.